Truck Campers vs. Van Campers


Truck and van campers offer specific advantages for camping enthusiasts in comfort and amenities, yet there are distinct differences between the two types of vehicles. Selecting a truck camper or van camper depends on the wants and needs of the owner. The type of camping the owner enjoys is perhaps the most important consideration in camper selection.

Types of Campers

  • Truck campers have the camper mounted in the cargo box, usually with an overhang above the cab. Larger campers often extend up to 3 feet beyond the end of the pickup and have pop-out walls. Van campers are typically a recreational vehicle with the engine mounted in the front or featuring a cab-over-engine design. Another type of van camper is the multi-passenger commercial van converted for camping use. Common conversions feature an RV-like boxed body behind a van cab. Volkswagen produces the smaller but immensely popular Vanagon, which features a hardtop or expandable top to enlarge the interior space.

Truck Camper Advantages

  • The primary advantage of a truck camper over a van is accessibility to remote camping areas. RVs and van conversions are generally limited to flat surfaces and not capable of navigating rough terrain. Truck campers equipped with four-wheel drive can travel off-road to primitive campsites or areas with no campsites. A truck camper is compact, often not extending more than 1 foot beyond the sides of the cargo box, making it a perfect vehicle for narrow spaces.

Truck Camper Disadvantages

  • A downside to the truck camper is that the pickup truck must match the camper. Although lighter than RVs and van conversions, the truck camper is still heavy. Half-ton pickups can’t accommodate campers and may sustain premature engine, transmission or brake wear, if not catastrophic failure. Three-quarter-ton pickups are the minimum size needed to handle a camper. One- and 2-ton pickups equipped with a diesel are even better. While the truck camper is compact, it has little floor space. Unless the top is expandable, headroom is also compromised. Some truck campers do not feature a toilet, but sleeping, sitting, dining, sink and storage capacities are generally adequate for up to four people. However, the portion of the camper atop the cab severely affects fuel efficiency by creating wind resistance.

Camper Van Advantages

  • RVs are generally spacious, providing adequate floor space and headroom and also offering all the amenities of home depending on the size and model. Even bare-bone models feature the basics of dinette, kitchenette, couch, sleeping area, storage and toilet. Luxury RVs have expandable walls, separate sleeping quarters, awnings for shade, generator, fully equipped kitchen and spacious seating. Van conversions, such as a Ford E-350 nine-passenger van converted to a camper, provide similar amenities on a smaller scale and work well for couples or small families. Like the Volkswagen Vanagon, the van conversion may feature a pop-up roof for extra headroom.

Camper Van Disadvantages

  • RVs are the height of luxury when sitting in an RV park or a large commercial parking lot, but they can be a headache anywhere else. Even RV parks that cater to RV owners have length limitations that may preclude the biggest and most luxurious RVs from gaining access. They are difficult to turn around, and navigating urban roads requires some training. RVs are not capable of going off-road. Filling an RV fuel tank can be ruinous to the pocketbook. Van conversions are not as versatile as truck campers off-road but are a good compromise between the truck camper and the RV.

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